Feb 27 2006
I was sitting in a small, cramped Tampa theater, listening to a tone-deaf little girl belt out “Beauty and the Beast,” when it happened. It washed over me like a wave, like an electric shock. A chill. A flush. A fever. An epiphany. A jolt. A surge.
Just like that, it happened — the rest of my life flashed before my eyes.
“This is the future,” I thought to myself as the song dragged on, “and it’s out of key.”
It was a variety show — a salute to Broadway — that my 13-year-old sister, Lauren, was performing in. Like all good Broadway variety shows, it had more than 13,000 songs, lasted until the next ice age (I think it is still going on) and offered more than its share of little people who were very good at imitating water-logged bagpipes.
Even worse, my sister’s one song — she only had one song! — was the third from the last on the program.
My brother and I nudged each other in the arm, wondering why we had forgotten the whiskey flask and thinking of how we would make her repay us one day.
I had gone to Tampa to see family and show off to the clan my 8-week-old daughter, Amelie. It was a marvelous weekend. My fear of driving three hours with a baby never materialized — I thought we might spontaneously combust — and overall it went swimmingly.
We took strolls around my mother’s neighborhood, not far from the bayshore, and she talked about how additions to houses looked like tumors or that children were allowed to run around like dirty hyenas while those people were standing in their front yards! My mother has a way about her. At one point she called out to a friend walking with another woman, “Well, hello there! Is that your mother with you?”
The woman replied: “Uh, no. This is my sister.”
Only a circus contortionist could put their foot in their mouth more than my mother.
She also likes to torture people, as she did when she plopped the baby in my brother’s arms and announced, “We’ll be back after we walk the dogs.”
My brother, who thinks he is allergic to children, looked as though a ticking nuclear device had been strapped to his chest. His eyes cried out for help with one of those “what-the-hell-do-I-do-now?” looks.
It wasn’t long after that the pacifier popped from her mouth like a champagne cork and she began demanding food.
At that point, I think he blacked out and now doesn’t want to have kids until he turns 263.
But it was when the two good brothers went to the show that I had that vision of the future — a preview of life to come. The recitals, the talent shows, the screaming kids and indiscernible music. The carpools and kid talk — “Can you believe how bad Joanie was? She’s a cow!”
It terrified me and at the same time — and this is the strange part — it sent such a bolt of excitement through me. Suddenly I pictured my own little girl up there, maybe dressed as a carrot in a homemade costume or singing “Jimmy Cracked Corn” and butchering it so that the next line sounded like, ” in his underwear.”
This is my future and I can’t wait!
Suddenly it wasn’t so bad. It was training, a basic course in how to act while waiting for the moment you’ve come there for.
We finally heard my sister, and she was incredible. I felt the pride build up in me and I wondered how it would feel one day when it was my own girl — when it was Amelie.
Boy was this worth it, I thought, and smiled.
Then, of course, the song ended and a bunch of teens came out to sing, “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” Good things can’t last forever and the future sure is going to be a strange and fascinating place.